WEATHER AUTHORITY : Dense Fog Advisory View Alerts

Washington rewards bizarre behavior

CNN's John Avlon breaks down the large amount of political funds raised by a handful of controversial figures in US Congress.

Posted: Apr 13, 2021 8:41 AM
Updated: Apr 13, 2021 8:41 AM

I have not spent much time in this newsletter on the antics of Marjorie Taylor Greene or the scandal surrounding Matt Gaetz, two of the more controversial pushers of conspiracy theories currently serving in Congress.

This is supposed to be about "What Matters," and after the Trump years we all spent struggling over whether the importance of exposing dark lies to the sunlight is neutralized by the oxygen they get in exposure, it has been refreshing to pay more attention to other things.

But ignoring things doesn't make them go away, and I wanted today to share a Reality Check by CNN's John Avlon that aired on "New Day."

You can watch it here.

Or read it below:

The sickness in our politics is the result of a screwed-up incentive structure that rewards irresponsibility and conspiracy theories with fame and cash.

That's just not my opinion, that's the view of former GOP Speaker John Boehner. Here's what he has to say (in his new book) about what he calls "the chaos caucus":

"They didn't really want legislative victories. They wanted wedge issues and conspiracies and crusades ... [They] built up their own power base thanks to fawning right-wing media and outrage-driven fundraising cash."

And as if on cue, we learned that QAnon conspiracy-peddling, mass shooting-denying Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene says she raised $3.2 million in the first quarter of the year, despite being stripped of her committee assignments.

That's a lot of lucre for someone who is into grandstanding rather than governing.

Her reported 100,000 donors represent just 0.03% of Americans, but it shows that crazy has a constituency.

And she's a symptom of the trend toward politician as professional troll.

Take Matt Gaetz, the Trump loyalist Florida congressman being investigated for a whole host of shady and possibly illegal weaselry, including serious sex-trafficking allegations.

He denies it, but we all know the playbook by now, right?

  • Say or do something outrageous.
  • Demonize the opposition.
  • And then play the victim to raise cash.

Folks fall for it. Gaetz raised more than $6 million last cycle, more than twice the typical representative.

Or how about one of Gaetz's very few defenders in Congress, Jim Jordan, who Boehner calls a "political terrorist."

He raised more than $18 million last cycle.

(I'll add another example to Avlon's: Sen. Josh Hawley, the Missouri Republican who tried to block election results and fist-pumped at Trump supporters standing outside the Capitol on January 6, raised more than $3 million in the first three months of the year.)

This is the rinse and repeat that's come to dominate Republican politics.

This is where Donald Trump's big lie and his thousands of smaller ones have gotten us: defining deviancy down while elevating political grift, offering not just alternative facts but an alternative reality reinforced by right-wing media obsessed with negative partisanship.

So some good people don't want to serve anymore, because the system seems to reward the worst in us.

It's one reason why so many Republicans have refused to run for reelection in the Trump years through today.

Listen to what a longtime adviser to Sen. Rob Portman, a guy named Corry Bliss, told the National Journal:

"If you want to spend all your time going on Fox and being an a-hole, there's never been a better time to serve. ... But if you want to spend all your time being thoughtful and getting [stuff] done, there's never been a worse time to serve."

That's a cry for help that cuts to the heart of our democracy.

Because we're living in a time when autocracies are trying to overtake democracy as the world's leading form of government.

And every unhinged, obstructionist conspiracy theorist who gets elected is an exhibit in their case.

Republicans will try to deflect away from this political gangrene with all kinds of whataboutism.

But unless they clearly condemn it, they will own the rot that is consuming their party and our republic.

Rewriting the reward structure in Washington

I'll add some of my own thoughts to Avlon's here. I share his frustration at the growth in profile of what should be fringe lawmakers, but I think there's also a counterpoint working right now that we should consider.

While it is clear from these fundraising totals that there is a reward structure for creating and then pushing a perception of persecution by these out-there politicians, and that campaign coin gives them power to organize and push their ideas even more, it's also true that the increased national profile from causing chaos comes at a cost.

Yes, Greene has raised money. But she's also been stripped of committee assignments, so her ability to actually generate laws is quite limited.

President Joe Biden could be the antipode to the Trump/Greene type of outrage politics. His first few months have seen some real legislative success in his ability to get a massive Covid relief bill passed. He's set and met goals for vaccines and moving kids toward getting back into school.

The country may have already been on pace to achieve those goals, but the lesson from these early months is that Biden hopes to find success simply by being much quieter than Trump, tamping down on drama rather than creating it and getting out of the way of the machine of government he believes can work. (And I understand that he faces a growing border crisis and tough decisions on other subjects in the near future).

Quiet compromise is in office. Loud chaos is not.

Biden has more reason to be frustrated with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnnell, who is forming a GOP blockage against Biden's agenda, than Trump, who blames McConnell for not buying in to his imagined election fraud.

And yet it's Trump who was bad-mouthing McConnell from Florida over the weekend, at an event for donors, naturally.

Biden's got a real headache in Joe Manchin, the Democratic senator from West Virginia, who won't agree to change Senate rules and do an end-run around Republican obstruction.

But rather than trying to browbeat Manchin into submission, Biden appears, according to The New York Times, to be making a go of crafting infrastructure legislation that 10 Republicans could support. Then, if they follow McConnell's orders and reject it anyway, Manchin may have new reason to join Democrats in moving forward in a less partisan way.

This will be the test of Biden's administration that could change the reward structure Avlon writes about: He must prove that either the bipartisanship he promised in his inaugural address is possible or convince voters that Republicans are so focused on defeating him that legislating is impossible.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 515504

Reported Deaths: 10296
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34999558
DeSoto33360432
Hinds32743643
Jackson24906392
Rankin22565405
Lee16455245
Madison14954283
Jones14158248
Forrest13834260
Lauderdale12311323
Lowndes11357193
Lamar10693140
Pearl River9748244
Lafayette8868143
Hancock7849132
Washington7559169
Oktibbeha7229138
Monroe7068179
Pontotoc7033110
Warren6885178
Panola6791135
Neshoba6744210
Marshall6707142
Bolivar6468151
Union643598
Pike5942157
Alcorn5921107
Lincoln5540136
George510680
Prentiss508285
Tippah495683
Itawamba4884107
Scott478999
Tate4777117
Adams4776125
Leflore4749144
Copiah458195
Yazoo458092
Simpson4566117
Wayne443472
Covington434895
Sunflower4319106
Marion4295112
Coahoma4244110
Leake414191
Newton396182
Tishomingo386894
Grenada3789109
Stone366166
Jasper341266
Attala340490
Chickasaw318367
Winston318392
Clay312978
Clarke301695
Calhoun286850
Holmes272889
Smith270552
Yalobusha244947
Tallahatchie232353
Greene225149
Walthall222166
Lawrence220242
Perry214556
Amite210357
Webster206548
Noxubee188843
Montgomery182157
Carroll175441
Jefferson Davis174343
Tunica163539
Benton153139
Kemper145441
Choctaw137027
Claiborne134839
Humphreys132239
Franklin126530
Quitman107828
Wilkinson106139
Jefferson97134
Sharkey65321
Issaquena1957
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 848137

Reported Deaths: 16185
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1164052005
Mobile743681384
Madison53497738
Shelby38435371
Baldwin38195589
Tuscaloosa36152644
Montgomery34562782
Lee25655264
Calhoun22630520
Morgan22530411
Etowah20069520
Marshall18846318
Houston17777426
St. Clair16958359
Limestone16195220
Cullman16157306
Elmore15940295
Lauderdale15069307
Talladega14260302
DeKalb13083271
Walker12168380
Blount10779193
Autauga10560157
Jackson10214196
Coffee9435192
Colbert9366210
Dale9044192
Tallapoosa7285202
Russell710065
Chilton7090170
Covington6969197
Escambia6967144
Franklin6364108
Chambers5801142
Marion5437132
Dallas5302210
Pike5129109
Clarke485786
Lawrence4850130
Winston4793110
Geneva4655136
Bibb435795
Barbour370680
Butler3444101
Marengo342993
Monroe338366
Randolph337867
Pickens334890
Fayette331785
Henry321166
Cherokee320364
Hale319189
Crenshaw261678
Washington256852
Cleburne255460
Lamar253555
Clay252969
Macon246367
Conecuh193562
Coosa186048
Wilcox178538
Lowndes178468
Bullock152845
Perry141840
Sumter139841
Greene130545
Choctaw94428
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Cloudy
61° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 61°
Columbus
Cloudy
61° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 61°
Oxford
Cloudy
° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: °
Starkville
Cloudy
61° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 61°
A few thunderstorms will likely spring up on Sunday ahead of an incoming cold front that will arrive Monday and bring widespread rain and lower temperatures.
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather